8 modern business lessons from 19th century champagne pioneer Barbe-Nicole Clicquot

Barbe-Nicole Clicquot didn’t just create a thriving champagne house but also set an example for the entrepreneurs of toda

8 modern business lessons from 19th century champagne pioneer Barbe-Nicole Clicquot

It’s very likely that you know the name and have probably had a glass of Veuve Clicquot. However, do you know the name of the matriarch of this renowned champagne empire? Barbe-Nicole Clicquot was one of the first businesswomen of modern times but you’ve unlikely heard of her. But her case does not stand alone, other female business pioneers have been overshadowed or forgotten, however their contribution to their industries are worthy of headlines. 

Women like Alice Guy-Blaché, a filmmaker that helped to build on the Hollywood industry; Brownie Wise, a saleswoman largely responsible for the success of Tupperware; or Dorothy Shaver, the first woman in America to head a multi-million-dollar firm. They might not be referred as often as their male counterparts of the time, but they made the difference when it comes to business. 

But let’s focus on the creator of the champagne firm we know today; also called the Grande Dame of Champagne. In 1805 Madame Clicquot took over her husband’s business at the age of 27 at a time when women in France couldn’t hold a bank account, let alone run a company. As a result, she revolutionised not only the champagne industry but also ways of doing business that now, in our time, is still key to success. 

Nowadays, Madame Clicquot’s qualities are celebrated all over the world thanks to the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award. Started in 1972, this prestigious accolade recognises business women worldwide who share the same qualities as her – an enterprising spirit, the courage and determination necessary to accomplish their aims.

Even a couple of centuries on, there are several things today’s entrepreneurs of any gender can learn from Madame Clicquot and apply to their own work today for business success.

(1) Be determined 

Set clear goals and work towards achieving them. It’s about what you are willing to do to achieve your objectives. Much like Madame Clicquot, in an era when women were excluded from the business world, she dared to challenge social norms by assuming the head of the company. 

(2) Be the first to market 

Follow the “first-mover advantage” theory and be the company that first introduces a product or service to the market. Even though this is marketing theory of our time, Madame Clicquot understood the power of this premise. In 1810 she produced the first vintage wine. She also created the very first blend of rosé champagne in 1818 by blending some of her Bouzy red wines with her champagne. Today rosé champagne is very much on the rise as we’re drinking more rosé than ever. 

(3) Challenge the status quo to set you apart from competition 

Promoting courage to change is key to success. With her daring, avant-garde ideals, she invented the ‘riddling table’ in 1816 to transform champagne into the clear and effervescent drink known to us today. It has now been adopted by all champagne houses in France. 

(4) Take risks 

Don’t be scared of the unknown and follow your gut instinct, it can drive you to a better performance and conquer new markets. As an example, Madame Clicquot literally crossed barriers being the first to export champagne. During the Napoleonic wars she managed to ship 10,550 bottles of champagne to Russia. 

(5) Put your staff at the centre of your business 

It all starts with your employees. They should be the soul and the centre of your organisation. A happy and engaged workforce is essential to run a successful company. Madame Clicquot had it clear, she was attentive to her employees’ welfare and took measures to support them in their everyday life. 

(6) Create networks 

Contacts are key to business. It will help you to reach more clients, knowledge and, eventually, business growth. Believing in the importance of the letters personally sent by her to all major clients globally, Madame Clicquot wrote over 100,000 letters in her lifetime. This fact has become one of the most distinctive brand’s symbols; there is a red signature on all of the labels today. 

(7) Localise your products 

Research is the base to operate in every single market so you can then know who your potential clients are. You might need to adapt your products or services, and therefore, your business and marketing strategy. For instance, Madame Clicquot adapted her champagnes to suit the British palate creating ‘dry’ wines as opposed to the usual sweeter wines. In addition, she developed yellow labels as distinct from Maison’s original white labels in response to the UK distributors request. 

(8) Make your brand unique 

Create for your product or services those features that identify your proposal as distinct from those offered by your competitors. For instance, Veuve Clicquot’s matriarch put a lot of effort on the design of the bottles as she wanted something distinctive with a new and more elegant shape. Nowadays, that shape is still in use. 

As seen in these lines, even though with a 200 years difference, these thoughts could have been shared by a keynote speaker during a leadership conference in 2019. In fact, role makers are referred as key to success; people like Madame Clicquot, who mentor, train, and inspire. Recent research carried out by Veuve Clicquot showed that 75% of females and 78% of male, mentioned them as essential when thinking about starting a new business.  

Sometimes time, is just that – time.  

Cristina Robledano
Cristina Robledano

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